Tuesday, February 24, 2009

And in Colonia . . .

Just a quick note to say all is well. We're in Colonia, a tree-lined small town of 22,000, just resting up after a 3 hour bus-ride from Montevideo. Allen's has mastered putting his own shoes on and can cut his own meat. Progress!

We both are enjoying this small colonial town, once Spanish, then Portuguese, then Spanish again, control passing back and forth many times. We spent much of yesterday strolling through town, admiring Baroque buildings, sitting in an outside cafe and enjoying home-made raviolis and cold glasses of Patricia beer. We even saw our favorite bird, the Lesser Kisskadee, flying to rest in pairs in tall palm trees, their bright yellow flashes brightening our spirits like old friends.

For those who wrote, thank you for your heart-warming and funny e-mails. I will answer as soon as possible, but just now I'm borrowing internet access from a local cafe. You can see (this one's for Nick) that Allen is truly fine!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Almost a disaster in Uruguay . . .

Yesterday, our first day in Uruguay, we were walking in the Old Town (a historic district of Montevideo), a quiet and ordinary street with Saturday morning strollers.

Suddenly, a mugger came up behind Allen and tried to pick his pocket at the same moment that he shoved Allen to the ground. I was slightly ahead, getting ready to take a picture, so until I heard the commotion, I didn't realize what was happening. Poor Allen wound up on the ground, and this guy was sprinting up the hill. You would have laughed to see me running right behind him, screaming at him and cursing him and his mother in Spanish. Luckily, I didn't catch him. Allen called me back to him, and when I got him to stand up, I could see his left shoulder pulled sharply down.

Neither one of us mentioned the possibility of a broken shoulder. A mother sent her two small boys to take us to the nearby clinic, but the clinic wanted us to go to a trauma center. Allen stopped a member of the Tourist Police to ask for help. This guy swung into action, calling patrols and a backup car. Allen suddenly turned gray; I thought he was going to faint on the street. We were both worried about his shoulder being broken, and he was in considerable pain. The police took us to a unversity hospital where a doctor had his shoulder x-rayed immediately. Thank God, the shoulder was only dislocated, so the doctor popped it right back in, and the pain went away. The hospital didn't charge us anything, but sent us on our way with good wishes. We were then taken back to our hotel in the police car (several stares along the way) by the police with assurances that this happens rarely, with apologies, and with hopes we would enjoy the rest of our visit in Uruguay.

I don't think we could have done anything differently. We were in a tourist area. People everywhere helped us, despite our fractured Spanish and that we obviously were from another country. The Tourist Police of Uruguay were very helpful, courteous, and even funny. The woman officer reported our case to headquarters by saying in Spanish, "They haven't killed him, but . . . " So I'm left feeling it could have been much worse. I didn't like seeing my husband in pain, though he makes a joke out of it now and teases me for running after the ladron. This could have happened anywhere and at any time.

So today, we are staying at home in our hotel, on the 5th floor above a lovely plaza filled with palm trees and maybe oaks. This rainy morning, we shared breakfast (coffee and croissants), with a soccer team. All is well.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

About San Ignacio Mini . . .

Maybe you saw the movie The Mission with Jeremy Irons and Robert de Niro. We visited the historical site of San Ignacio Mini, one of 30 missions established by the Jesuits to convert the native peoples to Christianity, back in the early 1600s when Portugal and Spain vied for control of South America. The movie did a good job of showing the political maneuvering between church and state (the church lost), but visiting this mission helped me see the degree to which the Guarani people contributed -- their music, singing, their wooden violins, and their exquisite carving in wood and stone.

The Guarani carved red sandstone into a stunning Baroque facade for the San Ignacio church. Only ruins remain. But we can wander through the open plazas, along the walkways which once were cloisters, and through the belly of the church, now open to the sky.

A curious pediment (now restored) above the portal connecting the church with the cloisters remains. At the center, we see the Jesuit seal and a curious allegory between a serpent and a "sirena" (a mythical mermaid). The serpent is twined around a cactus, a theme repeated throughout central and south America and rather interesting to spot here.

We're truly now in Argentina. Yet before leaving Brazil behind, I wanted to mention sandals. Imelda would have loved Brazil. The women (of all ages) wear these dainty and sexy little sandals with the most outrageous decorations. Even the run up to Carnival is worth mention. We stopped in San Ignacio one night on our way to Buenos. As we checked in to our hotel, the clerk apologized for the noise. We looked over at the quiet dusty plaza in the center of town, the lack of any traffic, and wondered what she was talking about. We found out after dinner.

About 6 pm, children and their families came out to practice their marching and drumming skills. By 10 pm, the older kids were out in full force. They drummed with exhuberance until 4 am. It was a long and delicious night, several weeks before Carnival, but somehow Allen slept through it all. We leave tomorrow for Uruguay, Montevideo and Colonia del Sacramento, a short ferry ride of an hour and will return to Buenos Aires next week. All is well here . . . and I hope where you are.

Monday, February 16, 2009

On the road. . .

Just a quick note to say we are without internet for the next 24 hours. We're just in the bus station now, waiting for the 20-hour bus to Buenos Aires, with fond memories of Foz Iguassu and San Ignacio (more about that later). First Argentinian breakfast this morning -- cafe au lait with croissants! I'll be back either today or tomorrow . . . depending.

Friday, February 13, 2009

About Iguassu Falls . . .

Eleanor Roosevelt said on seeing Iguassu Falls, "Poor Niagara." When I first heard this and remembered visiting Niagara Falls, I thought, how much bigger or grander could the falls at Iguassu be?

From the Brazilian side, this video may give you a sense of the sweep of this World Heritage site:

Brazil Iguacu2

We spent all day hiking along the trails on the Brazilian side of Iguassu Falls, sometimes shady, sometimes hot. We were grateful for water and Gatoraid, sunhats and sun screen. But we didn't care about our sore feet, for around every turn, another incredible vista awaited in this complex of approximately 275 separate waterfalls.

On the Argentinian side, we were able to walk even closer to the falls, admiring new angles and coming closer to the Devil's Throat, where white-water rafts holding about 50 people at a time power to the brink of the greatest downpour of thousands of tons of water. We hope to return tomorrow -- to go out on a walkway that will put us very close to the rushing water of Devil's Throat.

Check out Webshots (link to the right) for more pics of the falls (and coatis) . . . and Happy Valentine's Day!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Birdie note . . .

Caught the bug that most people do so the last two days have been low energy, but our first day here in Iguassu Falls was a double header -- we visited the falls (no description captures this experience, though I will try), and we visited Bird Park. Suffice it to say I took about 400 pictures and thank goodness the battery on the camera went out. Go to webshots (see link on right) for bird pics. One of my favorites is this little group of Sun Parakeets.

A toucon tried to eat Allen's shoe and one of the macaws tried to poop on me. Just trying to keep it real. More later. We go back to the falls today.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Last day in Ouro Preto . . .

It’s our last morning at Pouso do Chico Rei. Today we take the omnibus along the Royal Way, a road built in the mid 1700s to haul gold to Portugal. Sometimes I look at these mountains surrounding this isolated town of Ouro Preto and wonder how the bandierantes, those intrepid Portuguese traders and explorers, found gold here, the mine’s location marked by the strange “finger of god” mountain (seen in the background of this pic of Ouro Preto).

Yet the town remains, isolated for so many years, protected as a colonial national monument since 1913, and now a town of 6,000, augmented at times by tourists, and simply beautiful. Saturday morning as we yet again admired the hillside views out our window, two small parrots came by, squabbling all the way.

Here we explored the Casa do Contos, the counting house, a veritable three story palace with walls in the old style, two feet thick, a library and hand painted faux marble on the second floor, and slave quarters in the basement. A great crack of thunder led to a downpour. As rain slicked cobblestone streets, we rested our feet, grateful to be inside, to sit on the stone stairs in one place.

Today we leave for Foz Iguassu, a land of majestic waterfalls, a bird park and butterflies – and three bus rides of about 27 hour duration. I will hope for internet along the way.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

And the winner is . . .

The mystery is solved! Susie H. is now designated as the "Birder Queen" of my South American trip as she identified that little yellow bird as a Lesser Kiskadee.

You can see additional pictures to decide for yourself at Arthur Grossett's Lesser Kiskadee site. We've seen this little kiskadee in Sao Paulo, Rio, Salvador, and now here in Ouro Preto. The song sounds much like its name: kis-ka-dee, kis-ka-dee.

Outside, the drum clubs are warming up for Carnival with marching bands and samba steps. The energy hums through the night, with trills of whistles, singing, marching feet, and syncopated drum beats.

Today we traveled to Congonhas to see the Old Testament Prophets sculpted by Aleijadinho sometime between 1800-1805. These 12 statues were absolutely wonderful. My favorites were Daniel and his lion complete with curly hair, and Jonah with his whale featuring a double spout and curly fins. I suppose the curls were influenced by the Baroque era and will post pics a little later.

We traveled through the Serra Mountains and stopped in Tiradentes to see two churches there. The Igreja Matriz de Santo Antonio, featuring some of the last works by Aleijadinho, is stunning with its nearly solid gold altar. But I found the second church more moving.

The modest Igreja Nossa Senhora do Rosario dos Pretos (Church of Our Lady of the Rosary of the Blacks) was built by slaves in 1708 only after dark and honors several black saints, including Saint Benedito honored throughout Brazil and who came to Italy from the early Ethiopian Christian church. Musician Kris Katsuko writes movingly of attending services there. We stood alone in this church, quiet, and still felt the power of faith in spite of the legacy of slavery which remains always present in these great Baroque churches and cities, in their squares, and in their civil buildings, many with thick walls, once used as prisons.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Ouro Preto this week . . .

This week is passing too quickly. We're staying at Pouso do Chico Rei, a small 18th Century colonial inn where Pablo Neruda once slept, in a small town, once a gold mining center, now a tourist destination and national treasure. The first days here, I could hardly believe we truly were in the same place, the same room. I hear echoes of Neruda's poems and dream.

We've wandered these cobblestoned streets, up and down hills, visiting churches and museums. Today we visited an Oratorio Museum full of Baroque religious art and sculpture by Aleijadinho, nicknamed "the little cripple" because he couldn't use his hands to sculpt in stone and so asked his assistants to tie on his mallet and hammers. He taught himself how to paint and sculpt, studying pictures by Michelangelo. We'll go tomorrow to see his famous prophets in the nearby town of Congongas, about 14 kilometers away. It turns out there's controversy about whether Aleijadinho really lived at all; he may have been a myth, yet these fabulous sculptures remain.

I hope this slide show gives you a sense of some of what we've seen, much like the red ribbon hanging down from a saint's statue that connects you directly!


Ouro Preto is also a college town about the size of Corvallis. Its 8,000 students live in dormitories called republicas, some public and some private. As they ready for Carnival, we can hear their clubs practicing for the great processions. Think samba music, drums beating complex rhythms, and crowds singing all under a warm starry night.

Yes, we also found a laundry, and I've drunk sweet Brazilian coffee with scoops of homemade vanilla ice cream mixed in. Someone told me sugar is added when the coffee is made, but I don't believe it. The coffee beans are simply fresher here. And I do feel guilty, waking up and seeing this vista out of our two large windows, another sunny day, no reason to work except on writing; it begins to feel like a honeymoon, an interlude, an exploration, an adventure, a beginning.